Earlier this month I announced I would write on the topic of shame. Little did I know that we would be walking through this together. I uncovered a new layer of trauma in counseling and I can’t stop going over the tendrils of shame that still try to sink their way into my thought life, my relationships, and my daily outlook.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write a Biblical, grounded way to define shame but I can’t quite craft a succinct definition that captures it. Instead let me tell you what it feels like (maybe you can relate).
It’s heavy. Pervasive. Dark.
It feels like an erupting volcano that spills its hot breath and messy lava over everything in its path.
It feels like piles and piles of laundry I can’t quite stay on top of, so I succumb to the pile and just lay there in the mess.
It feels like a knotted ball of string in the core of my gut, growing and getting more tangled as I try to ignore it.
It feels like treading water in the middle of deep ocean waters, with tired arms and legs and no land in sight.
It’s chaotic. Suffocating. Toxic.
While I’ve been wrestling through this place, I’ve thought of you many times, friend. I’ve thought of you wading through the lava mess, trying to untangle yourself, on the other side of this very same ocean. I want to call out to you and say, “we’re in this together.”
Shame doesn’t want us to link arms. It isolates us and keeps us in fear, secrecy, blame, and judgment.
But here’s what Brene Brown says about shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame…The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.”
Ann Voskamp’s words echo Brene’s:
“Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
So that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m telling my stories in safe places. I sit in my counselor’s office and tell her these new revelations to my past. She says, “Now it’s not a secret anymore.” We’re unknotting the ball and laying it down string by string.
I cry to my husband about my overwhelm, and then we dig into the laundry pile together (this is actually literal- I can’t stay on top of the dirty laundry ha).
I call my best friend and leave her a long voicemail filling her in, as I step out of isolation and the lava cools at my feet. She responds and says that she hears me and she loves me.
Friend, I may not have a perfect path forward for you to get rid of your shame. I’m just figuring it out myself right now, too. But what I can do is shout to you from my side of the ocean.
You’re not alone. We’re in this together.
Sometimes it’s not a big moment or dramatic time of transformation that changes our lives. It may be the story of un-learning years of our own expectations and desires through parenting. It may be the story of pride breaking down in favor of vulnerability. It may be a story of grace over striving, friendship over isolation, and in Sue’s case, it’s is all of these. I’m so grateful to share the heart of my writer friend Sue with you on this Thanksgiving weekend. Friends, you are welcome here.
This is Sue’s Freedom Story.
As children we are terrible interpreters of truth, yet we often continue to live out of our childish notions of identity and worth well into our adult years. “My worth is directly proportional to the amount I produce and the image I portray to the world” said the voice in my head throughout most of my life. Maybe this all started when, as a child, I was praised for serving, or felt shame for not bringing home straight A report cards. Or perhaps this became my way of attempting to regain my position of “princess” in the family after my adorable little sister was born. However it began, that inner voice was in control for many years.
As a result of these lies that kept playing on repeat in my head, I had to keep moving, keep producing and keep pleasing. I believed that I had to work in order to earn anything. I was suspicious of grace. It made no sense to me that God’s pardon and favour were available to me without having to earn it in some way.
So even though I had committed myself to following Jesus, it was on the condition that I could work to attain God’s love, and serve my way into the Kingdom. So, I planned, strived, worried and became a workaholic in my attempt to earn approval from God and others. Instead of receiving grace, I obtained a very long to-do list.
Within this belief system I had developed, pride played a starring role. Since I was working so hard to achieve the life I envisioned, I could take the credit and bask in my achievements. This self importance made it almost impossible to let anyone else in for fear they might see the real me and find me lacking. So, I developed strategies of keeping others at a safe distance. I was cut off from experiencing true community. Throughout the years, God provided glimpses of another way of living but I can be slow to learn. He was persistent and finally one particular instance broke through.
In the midst of my workaholic tendencies, my “super mom” attempts, my obsession with presenting an image of the perfect family, true grace came rushing in.
Oh, at first it did not look like grace! It looked very much to me like failure; like the crashing down of my carefully constructed house of cards. The image I had worked so hard at lay shattered at my feet.
In their growth toward independence teenagers often need to push boundaries as they seek to discover their values and place in the world. My first teenager was this type. In challenging my authority and beliefs and experimenting with the “shiny objects” all around her, my child brought about the final dismantling of my carefully constructed life. Choices that grieved me deeply brought shame and a sense of failure. I wanted to hide from my friends, my church, my community because this felt like deep personal disaster. How was I to show my face in public now that my “perfect” life had been revealed for the lie that it was?
God’s grace came to me dressed as a friend. In this time of heartache and questioning my companion offered me a safe place to be vulnerable and reveal my truest self. I was able to finally remove the mask I had been hiding behind for so long. She listened without judgement as I poured out my heart. Instead of receiving the condemnation that I felt I deserved, understanding and compassion were extended and love was given.
I knew intellectually the truth of God’s love for me. I had heard many sermons and read scriptures that announced my value as His child, my identity as chosen, dearly loved, His workmanship. But the truth only reached my heart when I experienced it through an actual flesh and blood person. As she reflected His attributes, my friend became God incarnate to me. When she told me that I was a good mother to my children, I heard the voice of God telling me that I was not a failure. As she embraced me as I wept from the grief in my heart, I felt the arms of God enfolding me. When the eyes of my friend looked into mine with compassion and understanding, I knew the loving gaze of my Father in heaven.
I was ushered into the presence of Jesus where I could experience this same unconditional love and acceptance from Him. I was freed of the burden to perform, to keep up appearances, and I could just be. The vulnerability that I had been running from, fearing most of my life, was what finally brought about a deep compassion and acceptance that my soul so desperately needed. I was finally the recipient of the true grace of the gospel. Relief washed over me and, in the midst of all that was not right in my world, I was filled with joy.
I am still learning to take the messages of that old inner voice to God, and am allowing Him to restore me and bring greater freedom. I have experienced the healing power of being vulnerable with a safe person. I am realizing this is a gift that I can now give to another. As I share authentically with others, they too are given permission to remove their masks and begin to come out of hiding. I can offer a fellow struggler a listening ear, a hospitality of spirit that welcomes and accepts. I can be the embodiment of the God of all grace to another.
As we begin to live with greater compassion towards ourselves and others this changes the nature of our relationships. We no longer feel the need to hide from one another. We can link arms, encouraging and supporting each other in the way that God intended. As we experience true community in our relationships our faith communities will become welcoming and nourishing places, feeding those within and without.
I have also come to claim the truth of Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
I am no longer weighed down by a need to perform but I can live freely and lightly, keeping step with Jesus and my sisters in the effortless dance of grace.
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Susan C. Fulmore
I like to think of myself as a prospector for beauty. Treasure can be hidden under many layers and only requires a prospector to bring it to the surface. I seek to unearth the sometimes-hidden beauty in the garden, home, found treasure, fibre art and the lives of others. My passion is to reflect God to the world by creating and calling out this beauty, writing is one way I seek to do this.
I am a wife, a mother of two, a grateful wanderer of places local and far flung. Cute boots are a particular weakness of mine of which I have a healthy collection! You can find me on Instagram and Facebook.
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P.S. Thank you so much to Becca Tapert with Unsplash for the great image of sisterhood to accompany this post!